Cannes Lions

Lights. Camera. Wendy.

VMLY&R, Kansas City / WENDY'S / 2023

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Overview

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Overview

Background

Fast food was fun when it emerged decades ago. It was emotive. It was a treat. Over time, it became staid and functional. But emotional connection drives sales: Consumers who feel a connection to a brand spend twice as much as those who don’t.

Therefore, Wendy’s social media strategy is, “Make friends and invite them to lunch.” To compete with fast food’s leader, McDonald’s— which has almost three restaurants for every one of ours — we have to engage our consumers on a deeper level than food’s function. Social media has been our strongest connector: We’ve amassed more than 3.7 million Twitter followers and millions of views on TikTok, and achieved the rank of top 1% of streamers on Twitch.

Our objective is to grow relevance and distinction among younger, digitally savvy consumers vital to our future in order to build credibility among the next generation of fast food eaters.

Idea

Most brands pay influencers big bucks to borrow their credibility and reach new audiences. Wendy’s has taken the opposite approach. Instead of buying into culture, we’ve helped create it, becoming a cultural influencer in our own right.

To be a cultural influencer, you have to push the boundaries of accepted culture.

In a twist of irony, we’re much more polite to strangers than we are to our close friends. We can make fun of our friends and everyone enjoys it. Roasting — i.e., talking trash — may start a fight with strangers, but with friends and family, it’s a sign of endearment. We decided to roast our audience to build stronger bonds, treating our followers like close friends, not consumers. Wendy’s created #NationalRoastDay, a fictitious yearly holiday during which the brand directly roasts anyone who asks for it on social media in real time.

Strategy

To get love, you have to give love, but we all show love in our own unique ways. Almost paradoxically, the closer we are to someone, the funnier and seemingly meaner we can be. There are some things you can get away with saying to your friends, but would be plain mean if said to a stranger.

We had made friends, developing a large, significant social following. But we needed to act like close friends to take our relationship to a deeper level. And that often means a little tough love.

So we created a moment on Gen Z’s biggest platform, TikTok, to celebrate our followers and deepen our relationship with them by roasting them like only a close friend would. And in a way that was unique to Wendy’s and unique to TikTok with a custom real-time animation of a virtual Wendy character.

Execution

To launch our new fully digitally animated Wendy’s character, we declared April 12-14 #NationalRoastDay and invited our followers to ask to be roasted on TikTok.

For 72 glorious hours, our team was hard at work sourcing roast requests and then writing, recording, and editing our roasts as read by our voice talent and depicted with our custom real-time face masking animation technology.

And, in true Wendy’s fashion, we brought the sass. Who did we roast? Anyone who asked. Men, women, children, children, dogs, bands, brands, celebrities, nobodies, celebrity nobodies and even more brands.

How did we know what to say? In an era of automated personalization at scale, we opted for authenticity with artisanal handcrafted roasts delivered in real time. Sometimes we shot from the hip, sometimes we quickly scoured their social media profiles, and sometimes, for people famous enough, we used Google or pulled from pop culture history.

Outcome

We crafted 113 TikTok video roasts and set TikTok ablaze. We generated more than 100 million TikTok plays and 117 million views of the NationalRoastDay hashtag. Awareness of our campaign increased by 28 points which is 16X the QSR benchmark on TikTok.

Breaking out of TikTok and into the real world, National Roast Day earned 334 million earned media impressions from 68 placements, including a full minute on the “Today” show featuring a roast of the hosts. Everyone celebrated Wendy’s sassy holiday. Our roasts spread from Twitter to Reddit to Instagram to YouTube.

We used #NationalRoastDay to take our friendships to the next level with a healthy dose of good-natured fun, roasting our followers like only close friends can and in a brand new way with our custom face masking tech. In fact, we were so memorable that Ad Recall of Wendy’s increased by 37 points— 5X the QSR benchmark.

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2023, WENDY'S

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